“Wal-Mart or a nursing home, Wal-Mart or a nursing home!?” my mother screamed as we drove down the deserted expressway, our mini van going 80 in a 55. I sat in the passenger seat, nervously looking around. There were two things in my lap, a keepsake box full of high school memories and a clear run-about ball with a hedgehog scurrying around in it. My mother sat beside me, full of sheer panic. Her fresh spray tan really brought out the worry in her eyes. On her lap was my 14-year-old cat, Tortie. My mother was allergic to her, so she sat there, trying to steer the car, attempting to hold a nervous, wiggly cat while simultaneously sneezing into Tortie’s fur. So there we were, my mom, me, a hedgehog, a feline, and a problem. I don’t know what to call this situation, but I will just use the term “mess” for now. It was a mess. My mom yelled it again. “Wal-Mart or a nursing home?!” I halted. I guess this is a decision I had to make quickly since a deadly natural disaster was in our review mirror. “Wal-Mart” I blurted.

So back to the real issue at hand: the tornado. What is a tornado? People always think of The Wizard of Oz. However, it’s just not as majestic. Nope. Tornadoes are the most careless of the natural disasters. They come through, take your precious pictures, maybe a horse or two, your baby, your roof, and throw them 200 feet in every direction. At least something like an earthquake will just put a crack in your floor. That’s horrible to say. I’ve grown up around tornadoes just like I’ve grown up listening to pop music. It came with the territory, I guess. In my life thus far I’ve been through three of the deadliest tornadoes in the history of Earth, and countless other ones. Cool, right? Yeah, no, not cool. Going through a tornado doesn’t mean that I was standing in the middle of the swarming winds riding a mechanic bull yelling “yeehaw!” It means that I was huddled in my bathtub with pillows surrounding me while wearing a helmet.

 

* * *

I was finally home. The skies didn’t look as dark, but the wind sure was at full speed. I ran inside. “Mom?” No answer. I set my bag on the floor. “Mom! Mom!” I ran into the living room. “Mo—“ I stopped. There she was. Sitting on a yoga mat on the wood floor. Eyes closed. Hands in a praying position in front of her.

“Mom?”

She just sat there.

“Mom! What are you doing?”

“I’m meditating, I need silence.”

“Mom, no, you got to get up, there’s a torna—”

“I am meditating, Kieran. Please.”

This wasn’t a time to center yourself; this was a time to cover yourself with a mattress so you wouldn’t get blown away.

I rolled my eyes and grabbed the remote; I turned on the television and flipped it to channel 5.

“Kieran, please, you can watch TV later!”

She stopped when she heard the newscaster. “Take shelter. A tornado headed into Canadian County and Logan County.”

She unfolded her legs. “Why didn’t you tell me? We have to take cover!” She rushed to her bedroom, grabbing her purse, phone, and tennis shoes. I ran to my bedroom with my purse around my shoulder and grabbed the essentials I grab when a tornado is coming: my laptop, my camera, and my keepsake box. I took my hedgehog out of his cage and put him into his portable ball, he puffed up and pricked me with one of his quills. “Son of a b—“

“Kieran, hurry up! I’ve got the cat!” my mother screeched from the end of the hall.

I ran down the hallway to her room. “No, no, no, that’s too much stuff, only take cover with the necessities,” my mother demanded. I agreed, and set my laptop and camera down. Those were replaceable. I now only had the box, and the ball.

My mom and I pushed our way into the bathtub, with a perfect view of the television in the other room. We sat there, somewhat out of breath. Crouching in this uncomfortable position was not how I pictured my first day of summer.

     “This is now an F4, I repeat, an F4 Tornado headed straight into Canadian and Logan counties! Take immediate cover!”

The newscaster screamed. My mother and I looked at each other. I felt the fear of death for the first time. Thoughts rushing to my head like a million little ants making their way up a dirt mound. If I were to die when the tornado hit, at least I would be with my mom. Even if I felt unsafe, I would always feel safe with her there. We had our differences but somehow in a little bathtub, they were all behind us.

Our little bathtub wasn’t going to save us; it was a severe tornado. We both agreed we had to go somewhere safer. I personally have wanted a storm shelter since I was a kid. I used to just want it for secret club meetings that parents and boys weren’t allowed to attend. Now I wanted it to stay alive. But, dabbing down 4,000 dollars wasn’t in our middle class budget. My mom and I lifted ourselves out of the bathtub and ran to the front door. I grabbed the keys off the hook and we made a run for it.

 

* * *

Now we are back to where we started, speeding down the deserted expressway. Me, my mom, a hedgehog, a feline, and now a solution. We pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot as the wind blew around papers and leaves. We parked in a fire lane at the front. I opened the door and the wind almost tore it off. I braced myself to get out of the car. I held onto the ball and the box tightly, purse still strapped across my shoulder.

     “Go!” my mother cried.

We both ran out of the car. The wind hit me in the face like a pie at a carnival. It was hard to breathe; my hair was blowing around in my face as I spun around a few times, trying to push it back so I could see.

“God dammit!” I yelled over the loudness of the sirens and the wind.

“Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, Kieran!”

“Mom, I don’t think it matters right now!”

We both pushed against the storm, trying as hard as we could to walk in a straight line. From afar, we probably looked like we were drunk interpretive-dancing, when in actuality we were trying to live. We finally got to the door. The once sliding doors were now locked.

“You have to be fucking kidding me!” my mom screamed

“Oh, so ‘fucking’ is alright to say, but ‘God’ isn’t, okay, okay,” I muttered.

“Kieran! Quit!”

I ran to the other door, my mother following. Two employees were about to lock up; we banged on the door, tears forming in our eyes. We begged and pleaded and they let us in. Thank god. Thank god. Actually, thank the friendly Wal-Mart employees.

We took a few breaths as we followed them to the back of the store. The back was filled with people, and animals. There were multiple dogs, and cats, and one noisy bird. We made our way into the bathroom, as everyone and their dog (literally) followed us with their eyes. We were sopping wet and windblown. Sorry we had to drive here and actually go in the rain for cover, while all of you just had to waddle in from the electronics department. People in Oklahoma stare at you if you are just a smidge different from the regular country bumpkin. We all come from the same place, I say “y’all,” but they treat me as if I’m from one of the Coasts.

We made our way past everyone and found a spot on the floor to sit. Ironically, we sat across from the noisy-ass bird. Some employees handed us pillows, still in the bag. I took a deep breath for a second, settling into the cold floor. I closed my eyes. It was silent. But just for second.

“What the hell is that?” a woman sitting next to me said, as she pointed at the ball.

I slowly turned my head towards her. “It’s a hedgehog” I replied. She looked at me with great confusion. I should be giving her that look. She’s the one with a shirt that has a giant Eeyore on the front, and her hair in short pigtails. Her breath smelled like beef and her cross necklace was suffocated in her large bosom.

“A what?” she smacked, as she took another bite of her Slim Jim.

“It’s, um, an animal,” I sassed. I could feel her staring at me as I rolled my eyes and turned towards my mother. “I cannot die here. I can’t. This can’t be where my life ends.”

My mother put her hand on my shoulder. “We aren’t going to die, we are safe.” I ignored her reassuring words.

“She lived. She died. In a Wal-Mart bathroom, with 50 strangers, and a broken tampon dispenser,” I whispered.

“Kieran Rose. Stop. We’re going to be fine.”

I slouched back against the wall as I covered my head with the pillow. I hoped she was right because I couldn’t have my life end while sitting next to Smelly Clarkson and a parakeet.

 

Kieran Mahoney’s personal essay, “Unfolded” won Third Prize in the SVA’s Third Annual Writing Contest. Kieran is a dark comedic screenwriter who has been writing wild stories since she was barely out of elementary school. Born and raised in the state of Oklahoma, she moved to New York to begin attending SVA as a Film/Video major in 2012. Most of Kieran’s inspiration comes from her colorful family, and her outrageous life experiences. Whether she is writing about almost dying in a tornado, or about how she laughed hysterically during her grandfather’s funeral, Kieran has a way of turning something tragic into something humorous. Kieran will graduate in May 2016. She is hoping to acquire an internship at Comedy Central or Saturday Night Live.